If you live in New England, it is probably easiest to drive to the Quebec City area, as there are no direct flights from local airports. Yes, the drive is long (8 hours for us in Connecticut), but is tolerable if you break it up with a stop or two along the way for food and site-seeing. The Kingdom Taproom (www.kingdomtaproom.com) in St. Johnsbury, Vermont off interstate 91 is a hidden gem, offering dozens of local, craft beers and a diverse menu loaded with locally-sourced foods.
Border crossing is line-free and quick, and before you know it, you are in Quebec City. Founded in 1608, the fortified city is one of oldest in North America. The second you enter, it immediately feels like you are in Europe. Surrounded by cobble-stone streets, french-style architecture and a french speaking population, it is easy to forget you are in North America.
A couple of pointers – Quebec City is not particularly expensive, and when we were there the American Dollar was doing better than the Canadian Dollar, so we were feeling particularly liberal with our spending. However, there are some serious unexpected fees when buying goods and eating out. When eating out, you tip anywhere from 10-20% before tax, but here is where it gets tricky. The taxes are particularly high, which makes up for the good exchange rate! There is a 9% sales tax, and then they add on a 5% GST (goods and services tax). So therefore you are paying almost 15% in taxes.
Also, since Quebec City is about 10-20 degrees colder than much of New England, most restaurants we went to had two doors. One door was from the outside to a foyer area. There was a doorman waiting in this space who did not let us enter the restaurant area until the door to the outside was completely closed. Then we were allowed to enter. The first time we entered a restaurant, the doorman was momentarily helping someone else inside, so we made the mistake of opening the outside door and then immediately entering the restaurant. A bunch of waitresses quickly scurried over to shut the door behind us and close out the cold. We instantly felt like the silly Americans. Sorry!
There are plenty of places to stay, but the most popular are the luxurious, Château Frontenac, a Fairmont hotel that boasts gorgeous views and high-end rooms, and of course, the famous Hotel De Glace, or, The Ice Hotel. Yes, it is a bit touristy, but hey, what is more “cool” than a hotel made of ice?
After our brief stint in the city, we went skiing at Mont Sainte-Anne, a beautiful, large ski mountain a mere 20 minutes outside the city. We stayed at the Chateau Mont Sainte- Anne, an awesome ski in ski out resort area with tons of restaurants, shopping, and other amenities like a salon, pool, and spa.
One of the coolest parts about skiing the mountain was watching other skiers. In a lot of the mountains we frequent in New England, there is a mix of beginner, intermediate, and advanced skiers. While there was beginner’s terrain closer to the base of the mountain, we were shocked by the highly advanced shredders that littered the mountain. We concluded that since Mont Sainte-Anne is so close to the city, people must grow up accustomed to skiing weekly. The majority of U.S. cities in New England are 2 hours or more from a good ski mountain, making it harder to hit the slopes often. Also, with tickets being around $58 U.S. for a beautiful, challenging mountain, who wouldn’t ski every week (compared to a place like Killington, Vt at $105 per day)!